May 01, 2015

Wagnerian Passions

A Wagnerian opera is hardly something one would expect to inspire a Siberian protest. Yet that’s what happened this spring in Novosibirsk. Thousands came out to express their dismay after the director of the city’s opera house, Boris Mezdrich, was unceremoniously sacked over what was considered by a small percentage of the Orthodox community to be an offensive production of the German composer’s Tannhäuser.

Mezdrich and the production’s director, Timofey Kulyabin, were sued by a group of Orthodox believers for “defaming an object of religious worship” after they used a crucifix as an element of stage design in the opera (notably, set between the legs of a naked woman). The opera had received good reviews and was popular with the public, but Orthodox activists harassed theatergoers on show nights, standing outside and crying “Shame!”

The trial had the arts community on edge, with echoes of the 2012 prosecution of Pussy Riot: priests summoned as expert witnesses conceded they had not actually seen the opera, they had only been given clips of it to watch later, by undisclosed well-wishers.

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